RICH INTERVIEWS: Weshoyot Alvitre Artist/Colourer for Sovereign Traces: Not (Just) (An) Other Vol. 1

First Comics News: You worked on the story “Deer Dancer” who is the Deer Dancer?

Weshoyot Alvitre: Deer Dancer is a poem written by Joy Harjo. I envisioned this mythic type spirit as Deer Woman, who goes into this bar, and entrances everyone there, makes them question everything in their lives in how they each react to her boldness. And then she disappears and whats left is the stories of how each person there saw her and reacted to her presence. I think the poem ties directly into Deer Woman mythology, where the concept a deer woman is presented to reflect the things that could pull us from whatever path we are on in life, and also to remember the old ways. I also wanted to touch on the issues of alcoholism, MMIW as a result of alcohol, and the female. So there are nuances of the detrimental effects, the realism of what can happen to native women in rural settings, etc.

1st: What are the symbols you drew on the back of the woman’s hand?

Weshoyot: I actually really wanted to emphasize the authorship of Joy Harjo on this piece. I was given 3 poems to choose from. At that time, I had never read anything by Joy Harjo. I read them and Deer Dancer immediately stayed with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she described so many things and the mystery that laid in that poem. That particular page, is a portrait of Joy I found online, and I believe the marks on her hand was a henna tattoo, but I am not entirely certain. She used it as an author photo for a few things. I chose this particular image though, as I felt like she possesses this strong voice, almost masculine in the way she writes about viewing the ‘Deer Dancer’. I imagined her as a patron at the bar, observing, but also knowing that this was not an ordinary woman, but one of myth. The way she writes is almost something of a ceremony. I wanted to add that element to the visuals, so that there was less division between the mythical and the real, as I feel that if you are sensitive enough, you see these nuances in your day to day. The tattoo design is an attempt to tap into that primitive thinking we all have within ourselves and something she’s tapping into in her descriptions. I was hoping it made the reader stop and wonder why I devoted a singular page spread to her, who she was, etc. And hopefully, if they are familiar with Joy’s work, they will realize it is her. And if they are unfamiliar with the work, perhaps a little digging will make them realize its an homage to her as a woman, writer, and storyteller. After working on this project, I dove into her writing and she is one of my favorites because of her truths and eloquent way of expressing herself.

1stWhat do you think about to achieve the amazing looking deer that you do?

Weshoyot: I grew up on a large open piece of land with Deer. There were not many people unless we went into town, so I spent my first 5 years or so wandering the open land, trails, etc and really able to observe, listen and have that quiet that no one is allowed these days. I am forever grateful for that time as I feel it heightened the sense I use as an artist, in observations and in translating nuances into my drawings. I remember we would see them at a distance, and often see their tracks, but they were elusive and had sharp hearing. I referenced images of deer and combine them with those memories. I thought about the things a deer would think about out in the snow, looking for small amounts of food to eat, and knowing if they weren’t careful, they could be food. Eat or be eaten. I wanted to bring that sense of heightened anxiety and feeling of life/death that they always have, to the people in the bar and the deer dancer woman. My goal was to parallel the deer and the woman and the sense of fear, juxtaposed with unnatural grace. A deer in its environment is seen as graceful and delicate like a woman can be perceived. And yet, that deer may be on alert, graceful because it’s trying to move silently without being seen or heard by predators, trying to be as careful as possible to preserve its life. I wanted to show that, because I feel like that is what it’s like to be a woman. You may be perceived as one thing when the things going through your mind are completely the opposite. And I think something that we humans don’t pay attention to, or inebriate ourselves from being turned into these acts of self-preservation, of identifying distractions or gut feelings of uneasiness. We are no different from deer.

1st: What type of person do you draw the Deer Dancer as?

Weshoyot: I wanted to draw her as someone who walks in that place, disrupting the day to day normalcy that’s settled. So many of the people are there to either escape the day, escape the responsibility in their lives, so they drink to get a break. I wanted to have her as a figure who saw past all this from the minute she walked in, and got straight to the point and shocked everyone, making everyone take a look in the mirror. I feel like that’s what this poem does, and how its created in the character of the deer dancer.

1stHow do you think the expressions on the bar’s occupants are seen as?

Weshoyot: I feel like some are angered, some are shocked, some are reveling in it. Everyone has a different reaction to unexpected boldness, and I hope those individual reactions are shown in the bar occupants.

1stThe coloring is subdued was this on purpose for a reason?

Weshoyot: Yes. Ultimately I was trying to capture that cold, desolate feeling of a bar out in a rural place. I imagined this bar far north, in the snow. Where it’s not just a place to drink, but a rare place of socialization…a place to find warmth, in alcohol, in companionship. I imagine living in a place, such as Alaska or Canada, makes one long for the company of people sometimes, to break the open space and silence, that draws so many people there. I also wanted a strong bold palette of the woman’s red dress, amongst neutral tones in the bar, and also the stark white of the snow. This, partially to tie into the sexuality, and to potentially tie it into a dialogue of Native woman, sacredness, and MMIW. So yes, the coloring was very purposefully done.

1st: What was “The Moon of Letting Go” about and how did you illustrate the main character to look?

Weshoyot: ‘The Moon of Letting Go’ is a story by Richard Van Camp. It was imagined as a graphic novel, and the pages in existence were for a publication pitch. Its currently on hold but something we would like both like to finish in the future. Richard gave me some wonderful reference photos of his to use for characters, so there was a lot of guidance on his behalf for the look.

1st: How do you feel your work on the “Tenth Muse” influenced your comic book career?

Weshoyot: I feel like my experiences on that book showed me what not to do. While on that book, I got the experience of sexism at San Diego Comic-Con, of a project that despite a contract, would never pay me for my work, of how people may wine and dine you, but self-preservation is key. I learned a lot in a small amount of time, and glad I removed myself from that company. It is the textbook example of how new talent in comics are taken advantage of with disillusion of grander, and how many are chewed up and spit out and bitter because of it.

1stWhat comic book that you have not worked on would you most like to?

Weshoyot: I always say that I would love to work on an ECHO storyline, with David Mack writing. The character he created struck a chord with me when Native Female representation in comics was non-existent. Hellboy or Umbrella Academy would also be dream projects

1st: What are you currently working on?

Weshoyot: I am currently working on a video game called “When Rivers Were Trails”, a book for Penguin’s new imprint KOKILA, written by Cherokee author Traci Sorell and a few side projects with Lee Francis & Native Realities.

1st: What is the tattoo of on your right arm and why did you decide to get it?

Weshoyot: The tattoo on my lower right arm is of a petroglyph called the ‘Hemet Maze Stone’. It is located in Hemet, Ca. and has been attributed to the tribes in an around the area, including the Tongva and Cahuilla. My dad used to have a photo of it framed in our home growing up, and I used to sit and trace it over and over again. It is believed to be tied into the creation story and the universe. I had wanted to get it as a tattoo since I was a teenager.

1st: What does your being Tongva/Scott-Gaelic mean?

Weshoyot: My dad is Tongva, and my mom is Gaelic and Scottish. So while I relate to my Native heritage and ID as Tongva, I always make a point of saying I am mixed and that my mom is Scottish.

1stWould you like to encounter the Deer Woman?

Weshoyot: I ‘m not sure. And I am not sure that I haven’t already encountered her, or many like her.

1stWhat would you like to say to those who have enjoyed your comic book work?

Weshoyot: Just to thank them for taking the time to read the work, and that I hope my images and writing allow for stories to come across. Thank you for being supportive of my voice and art.

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